by Shrishthi Brahmarupa
Part 3: The Reasons Behind Everything We Do in Puja
How to Benefit from the Sacred Energy Exchange
Remember that every offering used in puja will become energized in two ways:
1) The energy you send out into the universe and to the deities, in the form of love and devotion; and
2) The energy that returns to you in the form of blessings and positive vibrations.
Hence, it’s important to use items of good quality, such as fresh flowers, fresh milk and an edible, cooking-grade puja oil. A transfer of energy takes place with each item you offer, so be aware of this when you purchase things for puja use.
Stale food, synthetic and processed items are energetically inferior and considered tamasic (possessing dark and negative qualities). For example, it’s spiritually more beneficial to offer whole dried turmeric than the factory-produced powdered version, and fresh milk instead of UHT recombined milk.
Here are some explanations for the items, utensils and offerings used in puja:
Pictures and Statues
Some think it’s ridiculous to ‘pray’ to pictures and statues. Contrary to popular belief, followers of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) are not blindly worshipping idols and paintings of fantasy humanoid beings in fancy clothes and tons of jewellery.
It’s rather pointless to get agitated over the ramblings of people like Zakir Naik – the best defence is to get educated over why we do the things we do, and leave the simpletons to their own delusions. If we consider the sheer volume of Vedic spiritual scripture available to us, we really don’t have the time to entertain such mundane things.
You can help educate others on the ways of Sanatana Dharma and the reasons we do the things we do:
1) The pictures and deities are representations of the various types of higher spiritual energies in the universe;
2) The pictures and deities are more for our benefit as mortals, so it’s simply an easier way to focus the mind on worship and communion – the gods, demigods, deities, elevated beings and spiritual masters who have attained Mahasamadhi are beyond this mundane material existence and are not confined to a material body like we humans are.
Time and time again, we are confronted with ‘scientific evidence’ that we’re not the only living beings in this universe. The Vedic scriptures have confirmed this thousands of years ago, especially the first Canto of the Bhagavata Purana (Srimad Bhagavatham), which essentially is the Sanatana Dharma version of the book of Genesis. Mantras and prayer rituals help us connect with highly-elevated beings and request their help, in the form of spiritual guidance and blessings.
If you really think about it, it’s not such a shocking thing to accept. In such a vast, endless universe, why would we assume that we’re the only existing forms of life?
Pure cow’s ghee is the best oil for puja. Remember, the oil you use is what fuels the sacred fire of your puja (agni), and the quality of energy you receive in return will be affected by the oil you use. I strongly recommend against using factory-manufactured puja oils due to the chemical additives and inferior quality.
Puja is a very sacred spiritual act of summoning and merging with powerful universal energies, so it’s wise to use quality ingredients accordingly. If you can’t afford ghee, it’s perfectly fine to use any pure, edible vegetable oil.
Flowers for Offering
When choosing flowers to offer to your deities and spiritual masters, don’t just grab the nearest thing on a stalk and pay for it. Envision what your ishta deva would like and make it a devotional, loving process. Won’t your Shakti look fabulous in that red rose garland? Wouldn’t Krishna just love this dew-fresh tulsi?
Make it personal and pour your love into everything you do for puja. That’s how you earn the favour of the higher powers and get the best positive vibrations in return.
The best flowers for puja are all types of jasmine, roses, chrysanthemum and lotus. It’s highly beneficial to offer flowers that have natural fragrance and are white, yellow, orange, red or pink in color.
Certain flowers and leaves shouldn’t be offered to certain deities; for instance, tulsi should only be offered to Vishnu or Krishna, or placed in the hands of a Srimathi Radharani deity. Lord Shiva likes white flowers and bilva leaves, but shouldn’t be offered ketaki flowers (frangipani). Ganesha should be offered the sacred kusha (also known as darbha) grass. Durga, Lakshmi and avatars of goddesses in general may be offered fragrant, colored flowers (preferably yellow, orange, red and pink).
Why do we avoid offering certain flowers to specific deities? To make a very long story short, some items match the energies of the deities better, and some don’t. Even as human beings, we have our specfic likes and dislikes, favorites and things we hate, plus allergies to items that just don’t agree with our bodily energy. It’s a similar concept with deities, just on a deeper level.
Fruits for Offering
Most sweet and juicy fruits can be offered during puja, as long as they’re fresh. It’s best not to offer pungent-smelling fruits like durian. Durga and her avatars may be offered large green limes in specific numbers, usually 9 or 27 – please check with your local pujari for more information.
Preparing Food as Puja Offerings
Everything you offer to the deities and the universal energy during puja is a representation of your love and devotion in multiple material forms, such as various types of food.
To be able to cook foodstuff to be offered in puja is a great blessing indeed. Imagine being able to create an offering for the highest energies in the universe with your own two hands and skills, in your very own kitchen – you get to choose the ingredients with love and care, prepare them and blend them into exquisite flavors.
Cooking for the deities is therefore a highly personal and divine act, and one of the highest forms of love and devotion possible while one is in this temporary human form. If you decide to cook for puja, I assure you that it’ll be a very spiritually fulfilling and highly rewarding experience. Just remember to maintain cleanliness during food preparation; the saying that ‘cleanliness is godliness’ was not without reason. All food offered during puja must be sattvic (no meat, seafood, eggs, onions, garlic or mushrooms).
Also, food being prepared for puja shouldn’t be tasted before offering – it’s better to use less salt, sugar and spices when cooking, until experience enables you to decide on the correct measures.
Maintaining the Purity of Puja Utensils
All utensils used for puja (plates, cups, spoons, wiping cloths, ect.) should be kept solely for that purpose to maintain their purity, energy-wise. It’s best to use serving ware made of brass or stainless steel.
Porcelain and glass are energetically inferior, but still better than plastic. Avoid having any form of plastic on the altar.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Organic)
Don’t dispose items previously used for puja in the garbage, such as dried flowers or incense ash. These items still contain sacred energy from the puja and they’re considered to be prasada. Plants will benefit immensely from them, and they will thrive and grow beautifully when nourished by used puja offerings.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Food)
If food offered in puja (prasada) becomes spoiled for any reason, it should be buried or placed in running water. If the food is still edible but not fresh, it may be offered to animals. Please avoid food wastage at all costs.
Disposing Used Puja Offerings (Synthetic)
If flower garlands were tied with synthetic string, remove the string and dispose it in the trash as it’s not biodegradable. On our path of self-realization, we should strive to heighten our awareness in even the simplest daily tasks. Hence, we should take care to avoid damaging the environment.
I strongly advise you to avoid using anything synthetic for puja, as these materials are tamasic in nature and don’t absorb divine vibrations well. I also personally feel that disposing puja remnants as garbage is insulting to the deities – it’s like throwing a sacred gift away.
Final Note: Puja in the Vedas
A reader asked me where in the four Vedas puja is mentioned. The simple answer is this: puja was never a separate part of Sanatana Dharma as a form of Bhakti Yoga. Per scriptures, divine worship is an essential part of life and shouldn’t be neglected.
Each Veda is divided into 4 parts – the Samhitas (which outlines the use of mantras), the Aranyakas (detailed instructions on how to conduct worship rituals and divine ceremonies), the Brahmanas (commentaries and explanations of Vedic rituals and worship ceremonies) and finally, the Upanishads (also known as Vedanta, or the ‘end parts of the Vedas’, and these generally discuss philosophy and meditation). In summary, the entire Vedas is interwoven with various aspects of puja.